When Lana and Lilly Wachowski, the visionary sibling directors of “The Matrix” and “Sense8, came out as transgender, it was a boon for trans filmmakers everywhere. Suddenly, the Wachowskis’ entire canon of influential science fiction, fantasy (and even “Bound,” their one explicitly queer film) could be seen through a whole different lens. The news turned “The Matrix” into a metaphor for eschewing the gender binary, “Bound” could comfortably be claimed as a lesbian film made by a lesbian, and they were free to make “Sense8” as unabashedly inclusive as they wanted.
So: How many trans directors can you name besides the Wachowskis?
While their influence cannot be overstated, there is a robust crew of transgender filmmakers coming up in their wake. As trans stories become de rigeur, it’s increasingly important that these stories are told by trans people. Only then will we see fewer cisgender actors playing trans, harmful stereotypes used as plot points, and documentaries that play like after school specials.
Trans people need to tell their own stories. So: If you’re not trans and you want to produce a movie about a trans person, consider hiring one of the directors listed below.
1. Silas Howard
A longtime fixture of the queer punk scene, Silas Howard started his career as a member of the San Francisco-based queercore band “Tribe 8.” He brazenly burst onto the film scene when he made his first feature, with Harry Dodge, without ever having made a film before. “By Hook or By Crook” played Sundance in 2002 and has since become a seminal work of the New Trans Cinema, a term coined by film historian B. Ruby Rich. He has since been making waves in Hollywood, scoring plum television gigs directing “Transparent,” “This Is Us,” and “The Fosters.” He is currently in production on his third feature, “A Kid Like Jake,” which follows a married couple’s journey to understand their gender non-conforming child. Starring Claire Danes, Octavia Spencer, and Jim Parsons, it’s safe to say Howard is in the big leagues now.
2. Yance Ford
Throughout his 10 year-long tenure as a series producer for PBS documentary showcase POV, Yance Ford’s keen editorial eye garnered his projects 16 Emmy nominations. Supported by a Sundance Documentary Fellowship and a residency at the illustrious MacDowell Colony, Ford was able to complete his deeply personal debut film, “Strong Island.” Guided by the filmmaker’s narration, “Strong Island” tells the story of the mysterious death of Ford’s older brother, a murder for which no one was ever charged. Following Ford on a labyrinthine search for answers, he exposes his raw emotions in front of the camera. Through intimate memories and family photos, Ford interrogates the painful history of race in America and its indelible hold on him and his family. “Strong Island” is as much about the search for truth as the impossibility of finding it. The film played Sundance, the Berlinale, and New Directors/New Films, among other high profile festivals. “Strong Island” will have a limited theatrical release this fall before being released on Netflix globally.
3. Sydney Freeland
Two-time Sundance filmmaker Sydney Freeland burst onto the indie film scene in 2014, when “Drunktown’s Finest,” her debut, premiered in Park City. The moving drama about three Native American teens living on a Navajo reservation in New Mexico was hailed by critics as an impressive first feature that explored identity crises of a rarely-explored community. She directed every episode of the Emmy-nominated “Her Story,” a short form series about the lives and romances of three queer and trans women living in Los Angeles. Her second feature, “Deidra & Laney Rob a Train,” is currently on Netflix. An upbeat young adult comedy, it boasts the rare double whammy of a racially inclusive cast and strong female leads (yet another reason why it’s important to support trans filmmakers).
4. Zackary Drucker
A producer on “Transparent,” Zackary Drucker crosses many boundaries and dons many hats in her artistic work. Though most prolific as a producer, Drucker has been making multimedia work for years and has a small but fierce slate of experimental art films under her belt as director. Written with and co-starring her mother, “Southern for Pussy” is an off-kilter comedy with an absurdist bent. As a performer, she is in a few episodes of “Transparent,” and appeared on E!’s short-lived Caitlyn Jenner reality series “I Am Cait.” A connector and collaborator of many fellow trans artists, she has worked with A.L. Steiner, Rhys Ernst, and Reina Gossett. Blending her unapologetically experimental aesthetic with high-production values, her work is always of the moment.
On the next page: The young directors making bold short form work across mediums.